rhino

REVIEW: The Cars – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995)

THE CARS – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995 Rhino)

Ric Ocasek was cool.  Whether it was the sunglasses, or the black hair and leather jacket combo, he was just cool.  The Cars were birth attendants to MTV.  “You Might Think” was arguably the greatest music video on this side of Michael Jackson.  And The Cars were far, far more than just a one hit band.  This Cars Anthology proves just how much gas they had in the tank.  With 40 songs including a number of rarities, this anthology is just what YOU needed.

The first four songs in a row, all from the Cars’ self-title debut, are radio staples.  “Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Let the Good Times Roll” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” still rock the airwaves, proving their timelessness.  The Cars could write a song, and whether it was Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr on vocals, the hits kept rolling in.  It’s a combination of choppy guitar hooks, keyboard candy, and plain ol’ songwriting ability.

The Cars were also consistent.  There is no dry spell for hits, not until we get to 1987’s Door to Door.  When you listen to a cross section of material in chronological order like this, it’s quite noticeable when Robert John “Mutt” Lange takes over production duties.  Heartbeat City and its synthetic drums are the prototype for Def Leppard’s Hysteria album.  The backing vocals, the bass tones, and impeccable production all foreshadow the sound of things to come in Mutt-ville.  Roy Thomas Baker didn’t put so much of his own fingerprints on the Cars (although you can definitely hear a Cars influence via Baker on Alice Cooper’s Flush the Fashion).  Mutt sounds like Mutt, for better or for worse.  The album sold four million copies.  Whatever Ric learned from Mutt and Baker, he put to good use as a producer himself.

There are some songs that are just special.  Even though their fellow tunes are unique, important and classic, some rise even higher.  One is the legendary ballad “Drive”, written by Ric and sung by Benjamin.  Soft and gentle, “Drive” has been our companion for decades now, through lonely nights and happy days alike.  Another immortal song is the aforementioned “Just What I Needed”, for all it’s pop-punk perfection, before that was even a term.  I believe they just used to call it “New Wave”.  Finally “You Might Think” must be remembered as not only an important video, but also an ageless pop song that still grabs you today.

Rarities in this set include single B-sides, demos and previously unreleased songs.  Some have since found homes on the Cars’ deluxe reissue CDs, but some seem to still be exclusive to Just What I Needed.  One interesting outtake is a bang-on cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime”.  The liner notes are also exemplary, as Rhino usually do.  You could consider this to be a miniature box set for all the care put into it.  While buying The Cars by the album will not lead you astray, there is much to be said for a really good anthology.  You’re looking at one right now.

5/5 stars

Rest in peace Ric, rest in peace Benjamin.

 

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition box set)

WHITESNAKE – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition Rhino box set)

Back when I reviewed the original “Deluxe” edition of Whitesnake’s 1987, I said, “Great album, but this reissue could have been so much better.”  And so here we are.

Let’s get right down to it.  You already know the story of Whitesnake 1987 or you wouldn’t be here.

The main feature is the 2017 remaster of 1987, which actually sounds pretty great.  In this day and age, if you’re seeking the warmth of a vintage vinyl experience, you can go and have that experience for far less money than this box set costs.  For a compact disc, this might be as good as we’ve gotten so far.  If you look at the Audacity waveforms below, you can see the 2017 remaster (top) has roughly the same levels as a previous one from Whitesnake Gold.

I’m still hanging on to my original UK version of 1987, but for compact disc, this is probably it.


David Coverdale wanted to adapt Whitesnake to the 1980s with this album, and this lineup with John Sykes, Neil Murray, and new drummer Aynsley Dunbar was certainly able to deliver.  The album was always loud, especially compared to their 70s output.  Sykes provided the squeals that the kids wanted.  David was back in top voice.  The album they delivered is legendary for how it changed Whitesnake’s fortunes.

The running order on this box set is not the original UK or US, but the combined running order as used on the previous 20th anniversary edition.

“Still of the Night” blows the doors in, a tornado in the night, mighty and sexy too.  Whitesnake had never been this aggressive before, but “Give Me All Your Love” lulls the listener back to something easier to digest on first listen.  “Give Me All Your Love” was a successful single because it’s melodic pop rock with guitars.  But then the band scorch again with “Bad Boys”, top speed right into your daughter’s headphones!  Whether it was Aynsley Dunbar or just the songs that they wrote, the pace is high gear.

“Is This Love”, a song that David was writing with Tina Turner in mind, was another massive hit.   John Kolodner (John Kolodner) insisted that they keep it for themselves, and he was right as he often was.  For a big 80s ballad, “Is This Love” really was perfect.  It tends to work better in a stripped back arrangement, since the original is so specifically tailored to that era.  Still, Sykes’ solo on it has to be one of his best.

Speaking of hits, “Here I Go Again” is the one that Sykes didn’t want to do, and look what happened.  That humble pie probably tasted no good to Sykes when he found himself fired by Coverdale after the album was completed.  His replacement, Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg) actually played the guitar solo, so dissatisfied was Coverdale with the one Sykes produced.  “Here I Go Again” was of course a minor hit from Saints & Sinners, but deserving of a second shot in America with production more suited to their tastes.  Don Airey on keyboards; though Whitesnake did without an official keyboardist this time.

“Straight For the Heart” is a great also-ran that perhaps could have been another single if they kept trottin’ them out instead of stopping at four.  High speed but with incredible hooks, it’s impossible not to like.  “Looking For Love” is the second ballad, but actually originally unreleased in the US.  It’s toned down from the style of “Is This Love”, and Neil Murray’s bass is pronounced.  He was a huge part of the groove on this album, if you really settle in and listen to the rhythm section.  His bass has a certain “bop” to it.  “Children of the Night” returns the tempo to allegro and the lyrics to dirty.  I can’t imagine too many fathers of the 80s wanted their daughters to go to the Whitesnake concert if they heard David cooing, “Don’t run for cover, I’m gonna show you what I’ve learned, just come a little closer, come on an’ get your fingers burned.” Another UK exclusive, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” cools it down slightly, but that Sykes riff is hot like a torch!

“Crying in the Rain” is held back to second-last in this running order, even though it opened the US album.  Another re-recording, “Crying in the Rain” was suggested by Kolodner because he knew Sykes could give it that massive blues rock sound that it had in the live setting.  Again, he was right.  “Crying in the Rain” is massive — perhaps the most sheerly heavy piece of rock that Whitesnake ever dug up.  Finally the CD closes with the last ballad, “Don’t Turn Away”, which closed the US version.  It’s a fine song indeed, and a really good vibe on which to end Whitesnake 1987.


The second CD in this set is called Snakeskin Boots:  Live on Tour 1987-1988.  Presumably, these are recordings from throughout the tour, assembled into a CD-length running order.  The “boots” in the title implies bootleg quality, but it certainly sounds better than that.  Soundboards maybe?

The studio lineup of Whitesnake dissolved and David got Vandenberg in, followed by Vivian Campbell (Dio) and the rhythm section of Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne).  This new lineup was not based in the whiskey blues of the old band(s), but in the flashy stylings of the 1980s.  Vivian and Vandenberg were both capable of shredding your brain.  That’s generally how they do it on these recordings.  Opening with “Bad Boys”, the manic tempo is maintained while the guitars reach for the stratosphere.

Sounds like it was a hell of a show, rolling into the groove of “Slide it In” and “Slow An’ Easy”, and the good news is the 1987 band can play the 1984 songs too.  David Coverdale is the ringmaster, the veteran, confident and in prime voice.  All the songs are from either 1987 or Slide it In, with only one exception:  the slow blues “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” from the original 1978 Snakebite EP.  Sounds like Vivian Campbell accompanying David on this slow, classy blues.  No Deep Purple in the set; but my old pal Rob Vuckovich once said he went to the Toronto show on this tour bearing a flag that said “PLAY PURPLE”.  He also claimed David acknowledged it by saying, “We’re not playing any of that!”

“Here I Go Again” comes early on the CD, fourth in line, and it’s excellent.  “Guilty of Love” is a nice surprise, and “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is more than welcome at the party.  “Is This Love” is well received, and works well in the live setting without too much extra production.  Adrian can’t top the Sykes solo, though he gets within very close range.  Vivian and Adrian get a feature solo with a keyboard backdrop, and it’s quite good — more like an instrumental than just a solo.  It leads into a brutally heavy “Crying in the Rain”; Tommy Aldridge literally beats the shit out of it!  The CD closes on “Give Me All Your Love” with David substituting the word “baby” in the opening line with “Tawny”!

There’s little question.  For most fans, the major draw of this box set will be this live CD.  If that is you, you will not be disappointed by Snakeskin Boots.


Disc three in this monolith of a box set is the 87 Evolutions.  This is an interesting concept but not one that you will be craving to have a listen regularly.  This disc is intended for deeper study.  These tracks are the album’s songs in various stage of demoing.  “Still of the Night” for example starts as a living room demo, with David slapping his knees for drums, and only the most basic of lyrics.  Then this demo fades seamlessly into a more advanced full band arrangement, with the lyrics still unfinished.  There’s a funky middle solo section here that is more jam than song, but a blast to hear.

That is the kind of thing you can expect to hear on 87 Evolutions.  No need to spoil what you should enjoy discovering yourself.  This is for the hardcore of hardcore fans, those that want every squeal that ever came from Sykes’ axe.  You are gonna get it.  Incidentally, I think I prefer David’s original, rough slow bluesy version of “Give Me All Your Love” to the glossy pop song it became.

This disc ends with a “Ruff Mix” of the completed “Crying in the Rain” from Little Mountain studios.  All the parts are in place, the mix just needed that modern bombast that David was aiming for.


The fourth and final CD, 87 Versions, is a collection of alternate remixes released on various singles, and brand new remixes as well.  These are really cool bonuses.  The 2017 mix of “Still of the Night” has a really dry sound, allowing you to really hear the spaces between the instruments.  A lot of these remixes have a different balance of instruments, so you will hear different things yourself.  There are two remixes of “Give Me All Your Love” on this CD:  the 2017 with the original Sykes solo, and the highly coveted alternate with “new” solo by Vivian Campbell.  There are also two remixes of “Here I Go Again”, including the old “Radio Mix” with a completely different group of musicians and a much more pop arrangement.

Among these remixes is something called the 1987 Versions:  Japan Mini-Album, proving that Japan always get the best stuff.  This apparent EP contains the B-sides and bonus tracks that you couldn’t get on the album.  “Standing in the Shadows” was another song re-recorded for 1987, though left as a B-side.  “Looking For Love” and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” are also included, since back then you could only get them in the UK.  “Need Your Love So Bad” was a previous Whitesnake B-side, remixed in 1987 for a new B-side!  It’s an absolutely stunning ballad, quiet with only keyboard accompaniment.

With all these tracks included, pretty much every track associated with the 1987 album and singles is covered.


Whitesnake: The Videos is the fifth disc, a DVD.  It’s really just an add-on, nothing substantial (like a 5.1 mix).  First on the menu:  “More Fourplay”, the classic MTV videos that set the world on fire in 1987.  Some behind the scenes footage too.  MTV was a huge part of this band’s success (hopefully Tawny gets paid a royalty from this reissue?).  These glossy videos are…well, they didn’t age as well as the album did.  Why does Rudy always lick his bass?  You just gotta laugh at “Here I Go Again”; the pretentious image of the three guys (Viv, Adrian, Rudy) playing keyboards passionately side by side…utterly silly.  But yet iconic.  “Is This Love” has the band playing on evening rooftops, Rudy wielding a double-neck bass.  Why?  Doesn’t matter; in 1987 we thought it was awesome.  “Give Me All Your Love” is a notable video, being a “live on stage” type, but also with the brand new guitar solo cut by Vivian.  For his solo, Viv chose to play on the wang bar a bit too much, but at least David let him do one.  It remains Vivian’s only studio appearance with Whitesnake, ever.  Unannounced but cool just the same, “Love Ain’t No Stranger” (from Slide It In) is used in whole as the end credit song for the “More Fourplay” segment.

Next up is a 28 minute documentary about the making of the album.  David has clear recollections and is always a delight to listen to. (Some vintage Coverdale interview footage is actually from a MuchMusic piece with Denise Donlon.) Interestingly, he claims that the “Still of the Night” riff is one that he found in his mother’s attic, that he wrote back in the tail of Deep Purple.  “Still of the Night” could have been a Purple song, but it took John Sykes to make it what it became.  We then move on to the assembly of the touring lineup, dubbed the “United Nations of Rock”.  Tommy and Rudy are also interviewed in vintage clips, with Tommy proudly proclaiming that they want to bring musicality back to rock and roll.

The “Purplesnake Video Jam” (whut?) video of “Here I Go Again” is basically a brand new music video using alternate footage from the time.  The mix is similar to the old single mix, but spruced up.  Finally there is the “’87 Tour Bootleg”, and woah!  It’s pro-shot multi-camera footage.  You only get half of “Crying in the Rain”, and all of “Still of the Night”.  Why not more?  Is this a tease for some kind of upcoming DVD?  The footage reveals a band of their time, but a good band.  Not the best Whitesnake lineup ever (Sykes gets that), but a good lineup with something special together.  They were tight, they could all play their nuts off, and present a high energy 80s stageshow, especially Rudy.  By the end of “Still of the Night”, David is actually dodging panties being thrown at his head.  I kid you not.


As per usual, any box set worth its own respect is packed with added stuff usually made of paper.  In this case, a nice hard cover booklet, a smaller softcover lyric book, and a poster.  Posters have to be the biggest waste of money in a set like this.  Who’s going to hang it?  I’m probably never even to unfold mine once.

Now that you have all the details, you should be able to decide if this box set needs to be in your collection.  It needed to be in mine.  And guess what — Slide it In is next!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Winger – The Very Best Of (2001)

WINGER – The Very Best Of (2001 Atlantic/Rhino)

Winger broke up in ’94, but reunited in 2001.  Part of the reunion entailed new music.  Before they finally released a new album (Winger IV), they tested the waters with one new song on The Very Best of Winger.  Yes indeed, you had to buy a “greatest hits” to get the new song.  At least Winger also gave you a Japanese bonus track for your money too.

New tune “On the Inside” was written for Pull (their third album and last before breakup) but recorded for Very Best Of.  It’s a chunky, heavy tune with splashes of anthemic keyboard in the chorus.  It really underlines that Winger could write and play with integrity when they wanted to.  Reb Beach’s solo is unorthodox and outside the box.  “Hell to Pay” is listed as an outtake, but it was actually released as a Japanese bonus track to Pull.  Stuff like this saves collectors for shelling out mucho dinero for a Japanese import.  Good sassy tune, and listen for that scorching outro.

Pull was a record that never got a shot, so it’s OK that the first chunk of tunes are from that album.  It deserved a second chance.  These are standout songs:  “Blind Revolution Mad” smokes white hot, and with depth.  “Down Incognito” has a bright, memorable chorus contrasted with groovy verses.  90s-style riffing worked perfectly on the track “Junkyard Dog”, a seven-minute thrill ride through different textures.  Winger were not playing it simple.  Even their ballads from that era have more heft.  “Spell I’m Under” has edge under those layered melodies.  Few songs are as starkly lovely as “Who’s the One”.

The Very Best of Winger takes a dive after the Pull material.  The CD is in reverse chronological order, which almost never works.  Yes, it highlights the most current sounding music, but at the cost of consistency.  Winger II: In the Heart of the Young was, let’s be honest, not good.  The ballads were sappier and the rockers too cheesy.  Only “Rainbow in the Rose” really fits on this set.  Past the dreck, the four singles from album #1 are included.  This means the CD at least ends on an up, though the ballad “Headed for a Heartbreak” is a bit anti-climatic.

Go for The Very Best of Winger if:

a) you want to check this band out, or

b) you want the rarities.

Your needs might be met by just buying Pull.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Life and Crimes of (1999 box set)

ALICE COOPER – The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (1999 Rhino 4 CD set)

With the benefit of hindsight, 1999 was way too early for Alice Cooper to be looking back with a comprehensive box set.  His new album Paranormal will be out this month.  He’s been consistently touring and recording.  The picture was different in 1999 though, since Alice had been quietly under the radar for much of the decade and there was no sign of new music coming.

This Rhino box set is pretty comprehensive.  Though there are plenty more rarities out there to get on singles and elsewhere, Rhino served up a very generous selection of them.  Starting in 1966 with singles by The Spiders and The Nazz, Alice’s sound begins to evolve.  Those early bands were 4/5 of the original Alice Cooper group:  only drummer Neal Smith had yet to join.  The early singles are unfocused compared to what Alice was going to do in a couple years.  “Don’t Blow Your Mind” and “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” (sometimes known as “I’ve Written Home to Mother”) are sloppy psychedelia.  “Hitch Hike” is like rockabilly.  “Why Don’t You Love Me” is late 60s style rock and roll with a nice harmonica part.  It sounds influenced by the Beatles.

A demo version of “Nobody Likes Me” is the first “official” Alice Cooper Group track and it sees the sound veer closer to where they were headed.  It has a sing-song melody that recalls “School’s Out” later on.  A few tracks from Alice’s first two albums (Pretties For You and Easy Action) demonstrate a work in progress.  “Reflected” is an early version of something that would be re-written as “Elected”.  The band was still very psychedelic and not as tight as they would become.

There is a sudden shift, and Alice Cooper emerges as the classic artist we know and love when he hooked up with producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  “Caught in a Dream” (a single edit) and a number of essential tracks from Love It to Death kick the box set right in the ass and it suddenly becomes a very engaging listen, when before it was just…interesting.  A quintet of songs from the next album Killer are just as special, though including “Halo of Flies” would have been appropriate too.

Before heading into the School’s Out material there is a rare demo entitled “Call it Evil”.  A small portion of the music would make it into the the classic West Side Story tribute “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” (also included), but this is its own song and otherwise unreleased.  The single version of “School’s Out”  is an obvious inclusion, but these two are the only tracks from School’s Out, a baffling set of omissions.  Granted, “School’s Out” plays like a concept album and is tricky to split up for a box set, but it is under-represented here, period.

Billion Dollar Babies is considered a peak of this period, and gets five tracks of its own, all brilliant.  “Elected” is the single version.  “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a highlight of Alice’s entire career and it still sounds fresh.  Another rarity ensues which is “Slick Black Limousine”, a UK exclusive flexi-disc release.  It sounds more like early Alice Cooper group material, with Alice doing his best Elvis.  The end of the original group was nigh, unfortunately, and Alice’s next album Muscle of Love was noticeably lacking something.  Maybe it’s because Bob Ezrin didn’t produce it, but the band was also on the verge of splitting.  Addictions were hurting them.  They were still making great rock and roll, just not…as great.  “Respect for the Sleepers” is a demo version of “Muscle of Love”, an unreleased track with lyrics inspired by Alice’s “dead drunk friends” (Jimi, Janis, Jim).  There are more songs from Muscle of Love included than there were for School’s Out, which is odd but alright.

At this point, Alice split from the original band.  Then there are a pair of rarities featuring Alice from an obscure rock opera called Flash Fearless Vs. the Zorg Women, Pts. 5 & 6.  Before Queen, there was this Flash Gordon album and Alice’s tracks feature players like John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Nicky Hopkins, Bill Bruford and Keith Moon as “Long John Silver”.  “I’m Flash” and “Space Pirates” are mere curiosities, but it’s stuff like this that makes buying a box set so much more worth it.  Where else would you hear these tracks?  Both feature Alice’s delicious trademark sneer.

Alice’s solo career really began with 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare.  He and Bob Ezrin went all-in with an elaborate horror rock concept album featuring a number of classics.  “Welcome to My Nightmare” and “Only Women Bleed” are single versions, and it’s fantastic that the blazing “Escape” was included.  Another concept album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, was not as strong.  Only two tracks are included, but both were singles.  “Go to Hell” is a must-have.

The third CD in this box set commences a murky period.  Alice was making albums frequently, but they weren’t as well received and many dwell in obscurity.  Lace and Whiskey was pretty good, and “It’s Hot Tonight” is a great track to start the disc.  Meanwhile, original band members Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway formed the Billion Dollar Babies.  They made one album called Battle Axe, and their cool rock track “I Miss You” is included.  That’s a nice touch, because for the first seven albums those guys were as important as Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper).  Michael Bruce sings, but lead guitarist Glen Buxton was more or less incapacitated by addiction and wasn’t invited.  “Battle Axe” sounds like a natural continuation of the Muscle of Love sound.  A bunch more rarities are incoming:  a torch ballad called “No Time for Tears” (unreleased) and “Because”, the Beatles cover featuring the Bee Gees.  This was from that pretty mediocre Sgt. Peppers tribute album from 1978, so it’s great to be able to get it in a box set.  Alice’s interpretation is creepy, and the Bee Gees are immaculate.

Moving on to his next solo album, Alice changed direction on From the Inside.  He had just gotten out of rehab (an actual mental hospital) and made a concept album with David Foster and Bernie Taupin about the experience.  The title track is included as a single version, and you also get the beautifully campy ballad “How You Gonna See Me Now”.  It was a single too, and its B-side “No Tricks” is also included.  It is a duet with soul singer Betty Wright.  Disc three is generous in rarities.  Another one called “Road Rats” (produced by Todd Rundgren) is a decent rocker from a movie called Roadies.

Alice moved into the 1980s on Flush the Fashion which employed some new wave and punk influences.  Its two best songs, “Clones (We’re All)” and “Pain” are included.  1981 brought Special Forces and more rarities.  “Who Do You Think We Are” is a single version, and “Look at You Over There, Ripping the Sawdust from My Teddy Bear” is a synthy unreleased song pulled last minute from the album.  Then there is “For Britain Only”, the stripped-back rocker from the EP of the same name.  “I Am the Future” is a single version originally from 1982’s Zipper Catches Skin.  Completing this era (sometimes called Alice’s “blackout period”) are a pair of tracks from DaDa (1983).  Alice had moved as far as he would go into the high-tech synthesizer direction, and he soon cleaned up for good.  A couple odds and ends tidy up the tracks from this era.  “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror” are previously unreleased songs from the Monster Dog movie (1984) which starred Alice.  These are very low-fi tracks, but “Identity Crisises” is actually pretty cool.

The final track on the third disc is the first one from Alice’s big comeback period.  “Hard Rock Summer” is a fun heavy metal rocker from the Jason Lives soundtrack.  It’s cheesy but also previously unavailable.  The fourth and final CD picks up there, with two more rarities from the same movie.  “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is included in demo and movie mix versions.  Onto 1986’s Constrictor LP, you get the enjoyable “Teenage Frankenstein”.  By 1987 Alice was telling us to Raise Your Fist and Yell on “Freedom”.  The excellent “Prince of Darkness” is also from that album, but then there are two more rarities.  Alice cut a re-recording of “Under My Wheels” with Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin for the movie The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years. Unlike many re-recordings, this one is well worth it because hey, it’s Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses.

Alice’s sound got slicker moving into the late 80s. “I Got a Line on You” is a Spirit cover from the movie Iron Eagle II. There is a notable shift towards mainstream hard rock, and this spilled over onto the next album Trash (1989).  This box set has three songs from Trash, but one is the irritatingly bad title track featuring Jon Bon Jovi.  His sound got a little tougher on Hey Stoopid (1991) from which you get a single version of the title track, and “Feed My Frankenstein” (also from Wayne’s World).  The Hendrix cover “Fire” is the last song from this period, which was a B-side.  Unfortunately another B-side called “It Rained All Night” is a superior song, but not included.

Alice took another short break between albums before emerging in 1994 with another critically acclaimed concept album, The Last Temptation.  Alice shed the trappings of the 80s and the album is held in high esteem today as a diverse combination of the 70s and 90s.  Three tracks represent it, but it’s hard not to wish “Side Show” was also included.

The Last Temptation was Alice’s last studio album when this box was released in 1999.  In the meantime, Alice made friends with Rob Zombie who was obviously influenced by the Coop.  They collaborated on a song called “Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)” for an X-Files CD.  This box set has the unreleased “Spookshow 2000 Mix”.  The track points in the direction of Alice’s next album Brutal Planet.

This box set is quite an epic journey, with many facets and side roads.  A trip like this needs an appropriate closing, and Rhino did something interesting to do that.  They broke the chronological format they used for the majority of the set, and slid in the acoustic rocker “Is Anyone Home?”.  This was a studio track included on Alice’s 1997 live album A Fistful of Alice.  This serves as the climax, and “Stolen Prayer” from The Last Temptation is the finale.  “Stolen Prayer” is a powerful duet with the late Chris Cornell.  It was always a perfect closer, but now it’s…also sad.

It should be obvious now that The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper is a worthwhile box set even for fans who own every album.  The wealth of rarities are just a taste, but they certainly scratch a lot of track off of collector’s lists.  Many remain exclusive to this box set.  On top of that, it is simply a good listen, bumpy start aside.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Honeydrippers – Volume One (1984 EP, 2007 reissue)

scan_20161017THE HONEYDRIPPERS – Volume One (1984 Atlantic, 2007 Rhino reissue)

In 1981, Robert Plant felt like playing some old fashioned rock and roll again.  He assembled a group of friends including Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Nile Rodgers, Dave Weckl and Paul Shaffer.  With a handful of covers ready to go, The Honeydrippers Volume One EP went top ten in the US and Canada.  I have now officially bought this EP four times: First time on cassette, then vinyl, then CD, and now finally this remastered CD with one bonus track.  One bonus track is all they could be bothered to beef this up by.  A grand total of 22 minutes, up from 18.

Originally released in 1984, in a lot of ways this was as close to a Page/Plant reunion as we were likely to get in the 80’s, although this is very different from Led Zeppelin.  These are classic golden oldies, rock and roll and R&B hits: the sound like guys like Plant and Page grew up with.  So get up, get down and dance!

“I Get A Thrill” is an excellent track with which to open the EP.  It’s a great song with wonderful backing vocal harmonies.  A nice fast one to dance to.  Everybody should know “Sea of Love”, the lush, elegant slow-dancer. Today it is better known than the Phil Phillips original. The music video might be most notable for the speedo-wearing Frank Zappa lookalike on the xylophone.  Ray Charles is last for side one:  “I Got A Woman”.  It’s breakneck fast, and might be too much for those on the dance floor cutting a rug!  Don’t go and break a leg….


Does humour belong in music?

Plant croons his way through “Young Boy Blues”, a Phil Spector oldie done justice by Robert’s rich voice.  It’s as lush and brilliant as “Sea of Love” and easily as good as the better-known single.  Back to cutting a rug though, you’d better get up for “Rockin’ At Midnight”, another hit single for the Honeydrippers.  Jeff Beck nails the perfect guitar solo in the midst of a boppin’ horn section.  Rock perfection!

The one measly bonus track is a live version of “Rockin’ At Midnight”. It’s shorter than the studio version of the song by two minutes.  It’s hard to fathom how Rhino only had one bonus track to include.  Plant performed live with the Honeydrippers numerous times.  To think they only ever recorded one track live is pretty hard to believe.

This remaster (released in 2007 as part of the Plant remasters) sounds great, and despite the short running time, is worth your cash as long as you’ve never bought it on CD before. It’s fun, it’s warm, it’s a great listening experience and every one of these tracks is a bonafide classic. It’s kind of odd hearing Plant’s distinctive squeal on some of these songs, but it actually works.

4/5 stars, but only because they could have included more bonus material.

REVIEW: 2001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (1996 remaster)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_201611052001: A Space Odyssey – Original motion picture soundtrack (originally 1968, 1996 Rhino remaster)

Stanley Kubrick changed the sci-fi playing field with 2001: A Space Odyssey. When he and Arthur C. Clarke sat down to write the “proverbial good science fiction movie”, they strove for a depth and realism that had yet to be attempted.  No sounds in space.  No thruster sounds, no pinging space radar.  Music (or even lack thereof) would be required to tell the audio story.  Kubrick initially contacted Spartacus composer Alex North.  The plan changed, however.  Stanley had been editing the film to a temporary score of classical music.  Nothing North could come up with satisfied the fussy director as much as the classical pieces, so that is what was used on the final film.

The film was fiercely different, free of cliches and intensely determined not to dumb things down.  The same could be said of the soundtrack, reissued on CD by Rhino with four supplementary bonus tracks.  This fine release enables the listener to delve deeper and unlock even more of the secrets of the universe.  Ligeti’s dissonant “Atmospheres” delivers an uneasy feeling; after all we humans know nothing of what is really out there.  The conflicting (and conspiring) tones of “Atmospheres” is supplanted by the main title, “Also Sprach Zarathustra”.  The music implies great revelation, standing on the cusp of universal breakthrough.

Unease returns with the bee-like swarms of “Requiem” also by Ligeti.  Voices sing, each one in their own world, but joining together to join a coherent piece.  In the film, this unsettling music appears when we encounter the enigmatic Monolith.  The Monolith is a tool of our growth as a race and a stark warning that there are things beyond that our science is not equipped to explain. Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and that describes one aspect of the Monolith in 2001.  (The other two laws:  1. “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”  2. “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”)

scan_20161105-4After the chaos of “Requiem” and “Atmospheres”, Strauss’ “Blue Danube” offers a warm respite.  The brilliance of the “Blue Danube” in the film is how Kubrick managed to capture the dance-like coordinated movements of objects in space.  A shuttle docks with a spinning space station; spinning of course to create artificial gravity that humans need to survive long-term in space.  This complex docking maneuver requires no dialogue, just Strauss.  But space is a cold deadly place, hostile to almost all known life.  Ligeti returns, as he must, with “Lux Aeterna”.  This music was used to back Dr. Floyd’s trip across the lunar surface to meet the Monolith.  It is mildly disconcerting, as is what Floyd’s team finds.

Khachaturian’s “Gayane Ballet Suite” is a somber piece, depicting the boredom and routine of interplanetary space flight.  Astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole seem disconnected from their humanity; the music has more feelings than they do.  The coldness of space is easy to feel from inside their stark white starship, and Khachaturian painting the tone.

Mankind meets its future on “Jupiter and Beyond”, a combination of three Ligeti pieces.  Once again, we must face the Monolith and what it means.  Dr. David Bowman experienced great terror as he plunged inside it, and this is the music that accompanied his long trip into the beyond.  The film at this point became its most experimental: impressionist images and obscure dissonant music put many viewers off balance as they struggled to comprehend just what the hell was going on.  It is over only when Zarathustra speaks again, and humanity has taken its next giant leap.

These are challenging pieces of music, but not difficult to enjoy.  They have all become intertwined with the film forever.  Even The Simpsons used “The Blue Danube” for a space docking scene (Homer and a potato chip) in an homage to 2001.  Whatever the original composers intentions were, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the pieces used in this movie are now associated with it forever.  You simply cannot hear these Ligeti pieces without seeing Bowman’s journey in your mind.  You cannot hear “Thus Spake Zarathustra” without feeling the awe of 2001‘s revelations.

The Rhino edition adds some bonus material.  Ligeti’s “Adventures” was altered for the film to add an impression of laughter.  Ligeti himself was not amused.  The original complete “Adventures” is on this CD.  From the archives is a different recording of “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.  The version used in the film and on the CD was conducted by Von Karajan, but the original LP had a version by Ernest Bour.  The latter version has been added to the Rhino CD release.  “Lux Aeterna” was longer on the original LP than the film, and the long version is also restored to CD.  Perhaps most valuable of all is a track of Douglas Rain’s dialogue as HAL 9000.

The excellent liner notes state that this CD release is the definitive one.  It contains all the music from the original soundtrack LP, and all the music from the film.  It’s a one-stop shop to get your musical mind blown.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

WELC0ME TO_0001ALICE COOPER – Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)

My sister used to have a tradition.  Because I’ve always been a collector, she would have an easy time buying gifts for me as a young rock fan.  When I was 17 years old,  I only had a few albums by certain artists.  She’d sneak into my room and go over my collection.  She saw that I only owned a few of Alice Cooper’s:  Trash, Prince of Darkness, Billion Dollar Babies, and Greatest Hits.  For Easter of 1990, she got me Alice’s Welcome to My Nightmare.  Not knowing what to except from the Coop, it was pretty much instant love.

I played that cassette a lot and grew to know its track sequence, which was completely different from CD.  Later on I purchased the original CD release, but what Welcome To My Nightmare needed (and the rest of the Cooper catalogue needs) is a proper remaster with bonus tracks.  Rhino took care of that in 2002.

Now the album itself sounds so much better than the original CD. This sounds more like vinyl, the way it should, rich and deep. The liner notes, unfortunately, are somewhat crappy. They basically just explain to the youth of today why Alice Cooper is cooler than the bands they like. There’s not much about the genesis of the album, which is disappointing. This is, after all, the very first solo album by Vincent Furnier aka Alice Cooper. By 1975, the Alice Cooper band (Furnier, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neil Smith, and the late Glen Buxton) was no more. Never again would they share a stage or a recording studio, at least the original five.  The four survivors did finally re-team for a couple songs on 2011’s sequel, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.

Welcome To My Nightmare was a revelation to me when I received it, and it is still mind-blowing today. I think that is due to the production talents of Bob Ezrin. The man who later produced Destroyer and The Wall really came into his own on this album. His production is, for lack of any better words, jaw dropping. You can totally tell it’s him, if you know his style well enough: that creepy horror movie piano, all the orchestrations, sound effects, the kids singing. Those are trademarks. My favourite moment for the kids was in the song “Department of Youth”. Cooper and the kids sing in the fade-out:

Together – “We’re the Department of Youth, ahh ahh, we got the power!”
Alice – Who got the power?”
Kids – “We do!”
Alice – “And who gave it to you?”
Kids – “Donny Osmond!”
Alice – “WHAT?”

Loosely, this is a concept album about the kind of nightmares Alice would have.  The result was a collection of remarkably timeless and classic songs:  “Only Women Bleed”, “Black Widow”, and “Escape” for example. “Escape” is the most straightforward rocker on the album, and a joy it is. The rest is often more complex, arrangement-wise and lyrically.

The title track is a fun rollercoaster ride with epic horns.  Same with “Devil’s Food” and “The Black Widow” which work together as a creepy classic featuring Vincent Price.  I would not want to live my life without these songs.  Alice is nothing if not diverse, and then “Some Folks” sounds showtune-y.  “Only Women Bleed” is the famous ballad, often misunderstood, but respected enough to be covered by artists such as Lita Ford, Tina Turner, and Etta James.

“Department Of Youth” and “Cold Ethel” are more rock and roll, and why not?  What better genre to sing about rebellion and necrophilia?  It’s worth pointing out the guitar charms of Steve Hunter and the late Dick Wagner.  These two incredible players, under the guidance of Ezrin, lent Welcome To My Nightmare the rock edge that it needed, lest it be swallowed up by the dramatic tendencies.

Of course, Welcome To My Nightmare features the first-ever appearance of the character of Steven. “Years Ago” has Alice singing in this incredibly creepy little-kid voice, as Steven. Then the song “Steven” kicks in, and it’s even creepier, but very epic in scale. Alice is at his most effective here.  Steven would pop up many times, such as on the next album Alice Cooper Goes To Hell, 1991’s Hey Stoopid, 1994’s Last Temptation, and the more recent Along Came A Spider.  Whether it’s supposed to be the same guy, or just a character who shares the same name, I do not know.

The bonus tracks are alternate versions of “Devil’s Food” (much extended), “Cold Ethyl”, and “The Awakening” with alternate lyrics and more Vincent Price! Not available on the Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper box set! These three tracks alone, to the Cooper collector, necessitate a re-buy.  The improved sound probably would have hooked them in anyway.

I could never say, “If you only buy one Alice Cooper album, buy this one.” The reason I can’t is that almost every album by the original Alice Cooper band was monumental, particularly School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies. However, if you buy two or three Coops, please make one of them Welcome To My Nightmare, remastered!

5/5 stars

* There is also a DVD Audio of this album mixed in 5.1 by Bob Ezrin himself!

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Shades 1968-1998 (box set)

DEEP PURPLE – Shades 1968-1998 (Rhino 1999 box set)

I was really excited about this 1999 box set when it came out, but what it came down to was this: I paid “x” amount of dollars for just two songs that I didn’t have on other recent Deep Purple CDs. One song, “Slow Down Sister”  by Deep Purple Mk 5 was only available here. It’s since been reissued on the Slaves and Masters deluxe edition.  The other is a very rare and very great 1971 live version of “No No No” from a compilation called Ritchie Blackmore/Rock Profile Vol. 1. So there’s your bait.

Unfortunately, the booklet and discography is loaded with errors. This was disappointing. The packaging is nice, with that sheet metal looking embossed cover. It opens kind of awkwardly though, making it hard to handle. And man, there are so many Deep Purple box sets out there now! I have Listen, Learn, Read On which is six CDs dedicated entirely to just 1968-1976. Obviously you can’t squeeze Deep Purple’s career onto just four discs. This set covers 1968-1998, which is a huge chunk.  It’s almost the entire Jon Lord tenure.  It skimps in some places and confounds me in others. Usually, Rhino do such a great job, but I felt this one didn’t live up to their other products.

SHADES_0003Disc one covers 1968 to 1971 (Shades Of to Fireball). The tracks listed here as demos or rarities are from the Deep Purple remastered CDs, all except for the aforementioned “No No No” which really is awesome. If you have the great Singles A’s & B’s and the Deep Purple remasters, you have all this stuff. Except maybe the edit version of “”River Deep, Mountain High”, I’m not certain about that one. You get a good smattering of favourites on here, like “Kentucky Woman”, “Speed King”, “Child In Time” and so on, but it’s not really sequenced all that well. The slow-ish Deep Purple Mk I material fits awkwardly with the Mk II.  Other songs of note include non-album singles and B-sides such as “Hallelujah” (first recording with Ian Gillan) and “The Bird Has Flown”.  The version of “Speed King” included is the full UK cut, with the crazy noise intro.

Disc two is 1971 to 1972: more Fireball, and Machine Head. All these tracks can be found on Deep Purple remasters. There  are some excellent tracks here, such as the rare “Painted Horse” and “Freedom”. “Painted Horse”, a personal favourite, has been available for decades on an album called Power House. I guess Blackmore didn’t like them at the time, so they languished until the band broke up before the record label released them. “I’m Alone” was rare for a long time, and “Slow Train” was completely undiscovered until the Fireball remaster. I like that “Anyone’s Daughter” is on here, a very underrated song.  Of course you will hear all the big hits on this disc: The studio versions of “Smoke on the Water”, “Fireball”, Highway Star” and “Space Truckin'”. This will be many people’s favourite disc.

The third CD continues with Mk II.  It starts off with the Made In Japan live version of “Smoke” which is fine, but now you’ve heard it twice.  Soon, it’s  “Woman From To-kay-yo”, “Mary Long”, and the scathing “Smooth Dancer”.  Then Gillan and Glover are out, and in comes Coverdale and Hughes  One rarity on this disc is the instrumental “Coronarias Redig”, which dates from the Burn period. It also includes some of Mk III’s most impressive work, including two of the best tunes from Come Taste The Band. Conspicuous by their absence is the epic “You Keep On Moving”, and Blackmore-era fave “Gypsy”. You will, however get “Burn”, and “Stormbringer” from Stormbringer itself.

SHADES_0005The fourth CD is the one that ticks me off the most. This covers the reunion era, from 1984 to the then-most recent album Abandon in 1998. The hits are here, “Perfect Strangers” and “Knocking’ On Your Back Door”, as well as some singles from the Joe Lynn Turner era. What ticks me off here is the song selection. “Fire In The Basement”? What? That song kind of sucks, why not “The Cut Runs Deep”? Only one song from The Battle Rages On is included, only one from the excellent Purpendicular, and only one from the recent Abandon? And not even the best songs? That makes no sense.

To short-change the later era of Deep Purple only serves to short-change the listener.  The band were revitalized and rejuventated by Steve Morse, and made some really good, well received music. I saw them live with Morse in 1996.

From The House of Blue Light era, a single edit of “Bad Attitude” is included, which is probably rare.  What you won’t get is the full, 10 minute + version of the instrumental “Son Of Aleric”. This is one of the best lesser known tunes from the reunion era. Instead, you get the truncated 7″ single version. That makes the 10 minute version frustratingly hard to get. It was originally released on a 12″ single, which you may be able to find. You might have better luck finding it on the European version of Knocking at Your Back Door: The Best of Deep Purple in the 80’s. It was included there, replacing “Child In Time” from the US version. I managed to get it thanks to my mom & dad who bought it for me at an HMV store in Edinburgh (along with Restless Heart by Whitesnake).

SHADES_0004Mick Wall’s liner notes offer the Morse years a mere mention, and end on a nostalgia note of “bring back Blackmore.”  Come on. Let’s focus on the present of a band that shows no signs of slowing down, shall we? But this box set short changes the present, and by picking it up you won’t hear such awesome later songs as “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” or “Fingers to the Bone”.

I know many reviews of this set are glowing, and each reviewer has their own reasons for doing so. I can’t. This band is too important, too vital, and dammit, still alive! This box set simply doesn’t do them justice. I was ticked off when I bought it and realized I owned almost all the “rare and unreleased” material. Collectors won’t find much here worth the coin spent, and rock fans who just want a great box set of Deep Purple won’t get to hear enough Morse.

Somebody dropped the ball on this one! 2/5 stars.

SHADES_0002

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)

TS SH R_0003

My Twisted reviews: “We’re Not Gonna Take It” single, Under the Blade, Live at the Marquee

TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition, Atlantic, 2009 originally 1984)

Fact:  When I was a kid, I used to think that Jay Jay French might in fact be blind; I never saw him without his dark shades!

25 years of Stay Hungry?  Actually 29 years at press time!  I don’t want to believe it.  Anyway, this reissue was a pretty big deal because Stay Hungry was out of print on CD.  For whatever reason (legal, contractual?) when Twisted issued their series of remasters with bonus tracks back in 1997, Stay Hungry was not one of them. Then in 2004, the reunited band recorded an album called Still Hungry, which was all of Stay Hungry re-recorded “the way they originally wanted it to sound” (cough). As a fan, I only enjoyed it for the new and unreleased bonus tracks. I was underwhelmed by the re-recording. It’s impossible to duplicate a specific recording, especially when the singer can no longer hit the high notes in “The Price”.  And it just didn’t sound good.

That was then, this is now, and Stay Hungry has finally been remastered and beefed up with a bonus disc of unreleased material and one brand new song! (None of these unreleased songs were even heard on Still Hungry, but a couple were remade by Dee on a solo album.) The album itself remains one of Sister’s best, although my preference is to You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll.  The bonus disc sheds light on what else the band was writing at the time.

IMG_00000189_editThe remastering and liner notes are excellent. The album sounds like it should, the way a pristine vinyl copy would sound back then. Still Hungry was mastered way too loud; this is much better.  The liner notes reveal friction between the band and producer Tom Werman. Werman rejected a lot of what the band had written, which makes up disc two. However, he was also a big supporter of their heavier songs such as “Burn In Hell” and “Horror-Teria: The Beginning”, while disliking “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  Dee Snider, in fact, wanted to save “Horror-Teria” for a rock opera he was composing, but Tom Werman wisely insisted it go on this album.

The special thing about the original Stay Hungry album was that there was not one bad song on it. From all three smash hit singles (“I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”), to album cuts like “Don’t Let Me Down” and “S.M.F.”, every song here is a classic. And only one ballad!

Twisted Sister appeared in the 1985 comedy, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Highlights include the opener “Stay Hungry”, which smokes the speakers immediately.  “Burn In Hell” (seen performed by Twisted Sister in the 1985 film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) turns up the scare factor with some unholy Snider vocals.  Snider’s epic “Horror Terria” is split into two parts.  “Captain Howdy” (later to become Snider’s character the film Strangeland) is a warning to stay away from the title character.  It’s ominous, Snider obviously hamming it up as Captain Howdy.  As a kid I never fully appreciated exactly what the song is depicting, unfortunately this kind of thing is now in the news on a weekly basis.  Part two is “Street Justice”, an angry song that inspired scenes in the film.

The man was caught, and brought before a judge,
who had just returned from a three-drink lunch.
His lawyer screamed, “You must set him free!”
And off he went, on a technicality.

Side two commenced with two of the big singles, “I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”, but equally good was “Don’t Let Me Down”.  This would have been another single as far as I’m concerned.  “The Beast” is evil and Sabbathy, but the album ends with the TNT blast of “S.M.F.”  At this point you are blown back into your seats.

TS SH R_0006The sound quality on the bonus disc varies from track to track, as is bound to happen with demos this old. Don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. These are some of the heavier songs that Twisted were writing, that Werman simply did not feel were strong enough. Perhaps with some fleshing out and proper studio time, tracks like “Death From Above” or “We’re Coming On” could have stood proud on the album as well. Clearly these demos are unfinished, most are very brief and unadorned. Some are a bit too similar to stronger songs that did make the album. Listening to the whole disc makes you wish that they had been fleshed out and released on B-sides or albums, as some are pretty good.

The highlight of this disc is the brand new Twisted Sister song, “30”. Finally, somebody has written an anthem for older rockers! It’s about time! And it’s a great tune, as well! “30 came and went a long long time ago,” sings Dee, with absolutely no shame, and rightfully so!

If you’re a new fan, or an old fan who has heard Stay Hungry a million times, this is a compulsory purchase. It renders the original release obselete. Still Hungry pales to this reissue. Well done, if only all reissues were put together with this much care and effort.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – The Randy Rhoads Years (1993)

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QUIET RIOT – The Randy Rhoads Years (1993 Rhino)

Growing up in the 1980’s, Quiet Riot was the first “metal” band I liked.  Back then, we were aware that Quiet Riot had two albums prior to Metal Health.  These albums seemed unobtainable forever at best, mythical at worst!  The first two, Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II, were released in Japan only.  Later on, I did manage to get both albums, so I have a unique perspective on this CD:  The Randy Rhoads Years, by Quiet Riot.

See, here’s a nutshell version of the story:  QR lead howler and co-founder Kevin DuBrow had wanted to re-release the Randy material for years.   Randy himself was never happy with those albums, nor his guitar sound on those albums.  In light of this, the late guitarist’s mother Delores was very guarded of Randy’s legacy.  She knew that Randy felt the albums consisted of sub-par songs with horrible production. DuBrow eventually won her blessing to re-release some of the old Quiet Riot material, but on one condition only: Get the quality of the songs up to snuff so it doesn’t tarnish Randy’s legacy.

So that’s what he did, using all the means available, and the result is a highly modified collection of Quiet Riot songs with Randy Rhoads.

I can tell people out there who haven’t heard the first two albums that they do sound awful. That’s not a myth. Randy’s guitar is but a shadow of what it would become, and the songs are mostly pretty bad, especially on the first album. The second is much better (particularly in the songwriting category) but it is still hampered by poor production. So what could DuBrow do to get permission to do a re-release?

He started by picking out six of the better songs from the first two records:  “Mama’s Little Angels”, “It’s Not So Funny”, and “Look in Any Window” from Quiet Riot, and  “Trouble”, “Killer Girls”, and “Afterglow (Of Your Love)” from Quiet Riot II.  All of these songs were heavily remixed, with completely re-recorded vocals, from scratch.  DuBrow felt, probably  correctly, that his original singing voice on those albums was too “boy-ish”.

DuBrow re-sampled all the drums, and re-recorded all of Randy’s guitar tracks through a Marshall stack.  Randy had confided with Kevin that he was happiest with the way his guitar sounded live with Ozzy, so Kevin recorded the original, sterile guitar tracks through Carlos Cavazo’s amps.  They used the Randy Rhoads Tribute CD as a guide.

On one guitar solo, Kevin knew that Randy wished he had used a wah-wah, but couldn’t afford the pedal at the time.  Kevin played the wah-wah pedal himself, using Randy’s guitar tracks, a unique form of collaboration between two friends.

With the Small Faces cover, “Afterglow”, Kevin came up with a cool idea.  “Unplugged” albums were on trend, so Kevin stripped all the drums and electric instruments off the track, leaving just Randy’s bare acoustic guitar.  It is like stripping a layer of paint off old beautiful old wood:  the bare guitar track reveals previously unheard warmth.  Kevin re-sang the vocal, kept the electric guitar solo intact, and used a triangle sample to cover up places where the original drums had leaked into Randy’s mike.  This painstaking work created from the ground up an incredible alternate version that Randy would hopefully have been very proud of.

None of these people are Frankie Banali.

None of these people are Frankie Banali.

One of Quiet Riot II‘s best songs is “Trouble”.  Kevin felt that it plodded too much, so he slightly sped it up which also raised its pitch.  He then re-sang it, and the result is a much better song.  Suddenly “Trouble” is a rich sounding hit-worthy rock track.

“Killer Girls” had some minor tampering, a blast of guitar where previously there was nothing.  It is “Last Call For Rock ‘n’ Roll” that is most changed.  Previously titled “Mama’s Little Angels” on Quiet Riot, Kevin re-wrote what he thought was a juvenile lyric.  (It was about trashing the house playing a game of “indoor baseball”.)  Bobby Rondinelli, who was working with Kevin on a Quiet Riot album called Terrified at the time, helped him re-write the tune.  Unfortunately, regardless of all this work, the song is still just a stock sounding track, nothing special, aside from Randy’s always classy if underplayed guitar work.

The rest of the album consists of unreleased songs.  One of the most exciting is a live take of “Laughing Gas” which Quiet Riot never cut in the studio.  It comprised an evolving, extended Randy Rhoads guitar solo.  Within it, you can hear the kernels of ideas that later became Ozzy Osbourne classics such as “Dee” and “Crazy Train”.  Even this “live” track is tampered with:  Kevin re-recorded his lead vocals (even the “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Randy Rhoads!” part) and actually spliced two different guitar solos together into one.  You can hear the splice point between the two quite clearly.  Of course this makes the solo no less jaw-dropping.

“Picking Up the Pieces” and “Breaking Up is a Heartbreak” are two of a kind.  Kevin says these come from their “pop” period after the second album, just before Randy was off to work with Ozzy.  They were getting more desperate for hits, and wrote these two melodic, radio-ready tunes.  Both are excellent.  Much like “Trouble”, these two songs are world-class.  Kevin re-recorded the vocals and so on just as he did with the other tracks.  At this time, bassist Kelly Garni had left the band and Randy played bass himself.

Lastly, “Force of Habit” is the only bare, untampered song.  In the liner notes, Kevin says they lost the original master tapes, so he was unable to remix or re-record any of it.  I think it’s an excellent heavy song on its own.  In fact, Ozzy Osbourne must have thought so as well, since parts of this song later became “Suicide Solution”!

This work,  and “Laughing Gas” in particular were enough to convince the Rhoads family to go forward with this album. If Kevin hadn’t done this, undoubtedly we would never have seen this release. On the other hand, this isn’t the way Randy recorded it, and Randy obviously had no input to how the tracks were mixed.  This has polarized fans, some of whom thought Kevin was the great Satan, others just enjoying the album for what it is.

I enjoy the album for what it is.  I like it a lot, actually.  I do have misgivings about the tampering, but since I own the first two albums, that feeling has subsided.  I can back up the claims that the first two albums are pretty poor.

Kevin had planned on a second volume, including such treasures as Quiet Riot’s metallic cover of “The Mighty Quinn”.  He had also mentioned a home video, including the extended “Laughing Gas” guitar solo.  Sadly DuBrow, will never get to complete these Rhoads reissues.

4/5 stars